Friday, February 09, 2007

Web vs. Print II

"I really don't know whether we'll be printing the Times in five years, and you know what? I don't care, either."

That was New York Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger, speaking to a reporter from the Israeli news organization Haaretz. Sulzberger went on to say that the Times has far more daily online readers than print subscribers (1.5 million vs. 1.1 millon), and that the average age of its online readers is five years younger than its print readers. Sulzberger argues that the Times can make just as much money online as in newsprint, even if the ads generate less revenue, because Internet advertising doesn't require the huge printing and distribution costs of newspapers. And don't expect to keep reading the Times online for free, as I do every morning. If you want the Times, you'll soon have to pay for it online, just as you would if you were buying a paper.

That said, radio and TV didn't kill off print media, and I doubt the Internet will, either. At least not for a while. Worldwide, newspaper circulation grew 10 percent between 2001 and 2005.

I'm no Nostradamus, but if I had to guess how the print vs. web balance will shift in the next 10 years, I'd say printed news and opinion will move almost exclusively to the web, which allows all the advantages of continuous updates and interactivity. So will some sports event coverage: I almost wore out my index finger clicking for updates on the 24 Hours of Sunlight, at which Greg Hill came up just short of 50,000 vertical feet of uphill and downhill skiing last weekend. (Three different skiers, including Hill, did break 40,000 feet!) Cookbooks, climbing guidebooks, and other how-to, where-to books also will move toward the Web—I already search and print out more new recipes than ones I look up in a cookbook; I still carry a guidebook to the crag, but I usually update it each day I go climbing with a printout from Mountain Project. On the other hand, books that involve real reading—fiction, history, biography—and those that feature big, beautiful pictures will continue to be printed on paper for many, many years, no matter how many new gizmos are invented for taking electronic books to the beach. The advantages and satisfactions of a printed book are just too many. Ditto for magazines, which is where this discussion started. News and how-to magazines may all move online, but those that print long, thoughtful articles or big, beautiful pictures (not to mention high-impact glossy advertising) will continue to thrive in print, just as books will.

Alright, enough of this. Back to the mountains.


Anonymous said...

Well, any update on your opinion re: print v. web? After last week's near-wholesale slaughter of the remaining Climbing staff, it appears that Climbing may be headed into an online-only direction, depending on your POV on Mr. Crowther's remarks in the press release that accompanied the firings.

Dougald MacDonald said...

I wish I had any more insight than the average reader, but I don't. Certainly, I don't mind if Climbing increases its online efforts, since that's where I do most of my work for the company anyway.